Still Wanted (?): An Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (Updated)

Still wanted: an Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. This Want Ad remains, at least as of this writing, valid as the U.S. still needs a leader for the interagency process.
Some quick thoughts (apologies for the bullet format, this is all I have time for now):

  • The Defense Department must be balanced by another vertically integrated heavy weight otherwise it will continue to be, by default, the coordinating entity for America’s global engagement.
  • The State Department, to be relevant and to offset Defense, must become a vertically integrated Department of State and Non-State. It makes no sense to de-emphasize or dis-empower State’s “R” Bureau (Public Diplomacy) when modern diplomacy is not compartmentalized (detente and closed door diplomacy is over). From an organizational standpoint, eliminating or marginalizing State’s ability to directly engage global publics from individuals to leaders requires doing the same for Defense, which won’t happen nor it is practicable to even consider.
  • The State Department must adopt the concept of “commander’s intent” and drop zero-tolerance for information errors.  Rigidity in the informational hierarchy inhibits agility to the point of paralysis. 
  • Everybody at the State Department must be educated, encourage, empowered, and equipped to engage in the modern global “now media” information environment. If Defense can push in this direction, why not State?
  • Understanding and engaging the “Human Terrain” was and must again become a function of civilian-based public diplomacy. Empowering grassroots engagement, as USIA did in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 70’s gives the HUMINT the Intelligence and Defense and Policy Communities so desperately crave. It was the responsibility of USIA to identify and engage current and future foreign public opinion leaders and to know the “street.” To de-militarize our national security, to move it more into open source, requires a full spectrum engagement that is not unlike something we’ve done before.
  • The United States requires a central coordinating hub to monitor and facilitate global informational and exchange activities. This is a core mission of the State Department and it should be prioritized and funded appropriately by both the State Department itself and Congress.
  • The State Department has existing roles and relations that extend beyond the ‘traditional’ national security threats and into issues of the economy, health, poverty, etc that when upside down are breeding grounds for extremism but more importantly are the current and future ‘battlegrounds’ of which we remain mostly unarmed and unaware. Defense is necessarily and appropriately focused on kinetic threats. It is State that take the broader view.
  • The real impact of too few people at the State Department is not the field activities, but the failure to allow Foreign Service Officers to return to academic and think-tank environments to reflect on and share lessons learned and socialize best practices. The Defense Department has the capacity to rotate substantial numbers of its people through training, whether at Defense institutions like the Army War College, National Defense University, Marine Corps U, Air Force U, Leavenworth, Navy War, or the public university system. This means that people with field experience can come back, teach, write, discuss, and create best practices. There is no such luxury at State to the significant detriment of its ability to detect and adapt to changes in the global environment.
  • We must stop imagining a bifurcated world of a US and a separate non-US information environment. If we understand the global information environment and the importance of the truth and smart foreign policies that would, in the absence of adversarial misinformation and disinformation, be successful in the struggle for minds and wills, then we can understand the importance of speaking to foreign audiences, being transparent in our global engagement, informing Americans, and proactively engaging in the global information environment.
  • The State Department must align its regional bureaus with the Defense Department’s Combatant Commands and elevate the leadership of those bureaus to be co-equal with the Combatant Commanders. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs (no offence to the current office holder) should be eliminated and the Assistant Secretaries leading the regional bureaus should be promoted to Under Secretary. The equivalent to a four-star general, the Under Secretary would, at the very least, appear on the Hill whenever a Combatant Commander does and would create some parity in cooperation. If the Secretary of Defense can have COCOMs report directly to him, why can’t the Secretary of State have the Bureaus report directly to her? By changing the leadership and matching the geographic coverage of COCOMs and Bureaus, State and Defense will increase cooperation. Ambassadors would lose some independence as the Bureaus become more powerful as State shifts to a regional view from a country-level view. (About the Ambassadors, for brevity, I’ll just say here that everyone is the President’s representative.)

See also:

One thought on “Still Wanted (?): An Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (Updated)

  1. That you included commander’s intent – as a means to counteract the checklisting tendency of effects based ops and similar approaches – is intriguing, as this seems to be an ideal concept for driving the dialogue of inter-agency and whole of government towards asking the question, at every level, ‘What was accomplished?’ rather than, ‘How much was spent?’ I’m reminded of the Mattis memo, which I’ve been meaning to revisit lately:

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